Photo Walk shutterbugs face some resistance in Germantown but persevere in the name of art

As he sashayed down Germantown Avenue, the gentleman with a long braid in his hair passed by Arlene Renee Finston. He instantly took note of her purple linen, a wide-brimmed black hat and two cameras hanging around her neck.

“You,” he said, “got supermodel-style today.”

It being a Photo Walk event that brought Finston to the avenue from Lafayette Hill, she asked what was on her mind.

“Can I take your picture?” she called out.

“Uh-uh honey,” came his response. “I’m not doing pictures today.”

Capturing Germantown on film

A setback, to be sure, but Finston was doing photographs that day.

An artist and photographer with a grandson at Germantown Friends School, she and her husband Joe joined Germantown’s photo walkers for the first time.

They were among roughly 20 shutterbugs, bristling with cameras, lenses and backpacks, who gathered at Greene Street’s iMPeRFeCT Gallery early Saturday afternoon to begin their trek.

Downing bottles of water in the unseasonable October heat, they joined local photographer Gary Reed who again led this year’s Worldwide Photo Walk, an annual event in which photographers in cities around the world join photo groups throughout their neighborhoods, and upload the results to a single global Flickr feed.

The route

At the gallery, Reed announced a photo path that included Maplewood Mall, the Germantown Avenue business corridor, Vernon Park and Grumblethorpe, leaving Saturday’s Revolutionary War re-enactment to the crowds at Cliveden.

“There are really interesting and colorful people in that area,” Reed said of the photo ops awaiting the crew.

As the group fanned out, Joe Finston admitted to NewsWorks that “I’m not an artist at all,” though he and his wife enjoy taking art classes together. (She loves combining photography with collage, for artistic narratives she calls “photages.”)

Fellow participant Paulette Dunkelberger, a West Philadelphia teacher, said she joined the walk because she uses photographs in her social studies classes. She wanted to show her students corners of nearby neighborhoods that they never noticed before.

As the group arrived at Maplewood Mall’s north end, an elderly man in silver-rimmed sunglasses and green pants grinned while basking in a storm of shutter clicks.

Not everyone wanted to strike a pose

Other locals were less happy about the camera-toting visitors.

As the group crossed Chelten Avenue at Germantown, amid the swirl of shoppers, car stereos and bus-stop activity, some photographers were a little unnerved by angry outbursts coming from Vernon Park.

“Y’all can’t be taking no pictures like that!” one woman said, amid a stream of profanity.

Then, she turned to heckle two men playing chess on the Theodore Matthews Memorial in the northeast corner of the park, but the players just ignored her.

Meanwhile, someone noticed a man in an orange shirt sprawled out in the sun nearby.

“Do you want me to call an ambulance for him?” Reed asked as the angry woman moved to wipe the prone man’s face.

“No,” she retorted, “he’ll be fine.”

As Reed soothed his team after the commotion, one said, “I wonder how people do street photography.”

Reed responded, “Look, this is real life. They’re loud, but they’re harmless. Just go up and talk to the person. … If they don’t want the picture, just walk away. The main purpose of photo walks is to meet other photographers, and go in areas we don’t normally go.”

Germantown by choice

Jenkintown resident Ellen Rosenberg, an occupational therapist who enjoys photographing jazz musicians, wasn’t intimidated by what Reed called “a true urban area.”

She had originally planned to join the Center City Photo Walk, but dropped out in favor of Reed’s “because we love the area.”

A frequent attendee of arts-and-culture events here, Rosenberg shook hands and snapped photos on Chelten Avenue from Greene Street to Germantown Avenue, catching proud vendors, friendly loiterers, curious store employees and SEPTA riders.

“The people are phenomenal, as far I’m concerned,” she said. “They’re real. You don’t have to be afraid of people.”

Saturday’s Germantown Photo Walk was part of the Worldwide Photo Walk 2013. You can visit the event’s international photo stream on Flickr.

Photo-walk fans in the Northwest can look forward to Philly Photo Day on Oct. 18, when Reed will lead another Germantown group at 2 p.m. from iMPeRFeCT Gallery. Their shots will appear in a citywide photography exhibition hosted by the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center later this fall.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.